Unlike some of my sports journalism peers (none at THN, thankfully), I still indeed like sports. Love watching games. Love talking about games. Love reading about the games I watched after I watched them.
One of my favorite current writers – because no one can historically touch Hunter S. Thompson – is ESPN’s Bill Simmons, who deftly wrote the other week about his beloved New England Patriots. All is not well in Foxboro, you see, and Simmons didn’t think people quite realized it. After all, the Patriots are a dynasty, right? Well, the popular scribe’s point was that they used to be a dynasty, but attrition in the ranks through retirement, free agency and trades has made the football team less than it once was.
Not surprisingly, this got me thinking about hockey. Yes, the season is but a few games old, but some less than stellar starts have me wondering about expectations. Are there franchises cruising off past performances? Maybe it’s time to accept that our preconceived notions can obscure reality.
To wit: Colorado will suffer in net this year. Well, Craig Anderson seems to be doing just fine so far, even if a groin injury temporarily stops his run. Minnesota never scores, even if they claim they will under new coach Todd Richards. The Wild hung four on Anaheim Tuesday night, with new star Martin Havlat dishing out three assists.
Two teams I’m really seeing this trend in are both past Stanley Cup winners, but seem to be getting further away from glory as the years go on.
The New Jersey Devils have gotten out of the gate slowly and their best players haven’t been their best players. Martin Brodeur – age 37, let’s not forget – has been pedestrian in net, while the team’s top two defensemen are Paul Martin (minus-2) and Johnny Oduya (minus-3).
Because of the team’s history of defensive excellence, the Devils often get a pass on that very same attrition problem affecting the Patriots. Of course, it’s been a long time since Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer or even Brian Rafalski have worn the red and black, but this summer also saw the exits of forwards Brian Gionta, John Madden and Michael Rupp.
The replacements? Former Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters, who was a frequent healthy scratch in Buffalo last year and Ilkka Pikkarainen, who is back from three years in Finland after failing to impress the Devils in his first North American sojourn. Rookie Matt Halischuk at least has youth on his side.
Returning coach Jacques Lemaire knows Devils hockey, but does he have the crew to pull it off again?
Dallas also deserves another look. The Stars notoriously crashed out last season and most people gave them a pass because of injuries to Brenden Morrow, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen and Brad Richards. Marty Turco was awful early on and Sean Avery was a distraction.
Avery is long gone from the Lone Star state and Zubov is in Russia, but what else has actually changed? Richards, Lehtinen and Mike Modano are already banged up (though not as seriously) and Turco has an .880 save percentage in two overtime losses.
The Stars have some intriguing talent working up the ranks – James Neal, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, plus wildcard Fabian Brunnstrom – but it still looks very much like a veteran team. Maybe too veteran. Is it time to turn it over to the kids? Obviously it’s early in the campaign to panic, but another bum ending to the season and the Stars, much like the Devils, may have to look in the mirror for the first time in a while.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column – The Straight Edge – on Fridays, and his prospect feature – The Hot List – on Tuesdays.
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